Saturday, December 26, 2009

Different mental illnesses from your neighbors

Two nights ago, when that young woman knocked the pope down just before Christmas Eve mass at the Vatican, I got an e-mail from a friend which read:
The woman who pushed the pope down has been declared "mentally disturbed" on the PBS newscast tonight. Is it possible that she was merely tired to death of that awful dress he always wears on these occasions?
I wrote back:
The dress, yes. White after Labor Day. The shame.

But never mind the dress. This is a guy who believes there is a man who lives in the sky who came down and took a man's body and was born to a virgin. And walked on water. And came back to life after he died. And this guy also believes this man in the sky has given him the authority to decide who goes to happy happy joy joy land when he dies and who doesn't.

And they call her mentally disturbed?

That was originally a private exchange between two gay men who share the view that the Catholic Church is a predator organization which spends massive amounts of time and money and moral energy removing the rights of gay men and women around the world. We joke about the pope to relieve the tension so the anger and resentment doesn't get the best of us.

I stepped on the toes with this remark of a couple Catholic friends, who wrote to complain.

My first instinct was to apologize, but I value these friendships too much to be insincere. I can only hope they will understand and cut me some slack.

I think it's bad enough the bishop of Rome and his hand-picked curia need to insult all things bright and beautiful by turning love into sin and desire into shame. That, we could ignore. But recently they went further and took steps to remove civil rights of American citizens, including many who do not share their peculiar take on the human condition. It bugs me no end they think they should be able to do this with impunity.

OK, maybe "predator" is too harsh. How about "bully."

It is Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco and his Mormon buddies I should be aiming at, but Niederauer takes his orders from the man in the dress knocked down by the woman in the red hoodie, and I was struck by all that was left out as the story hit the news sites. Their slant was that the woman was mentally disturbed and the pope was a heroic figure for getting up off the floor. No mention of his delusions. Only hers. I was reminded of the definition of insane as "having different mental illnesses from your neighbors."

His Holiness has the power to inflict damage; Susanna Maiolo's power is limited to knocking old men down. She'll get medical attention (and a facebook page, of course). He'll get a free pass and go on to business as usual, making saints out of Hitler's collaborators and scraping the last of the reforms of Vatican II off his red shoes.

It isn't 1618 any more and we're not in Prague. We no longer throw Catholics out of windows onto piles of manure. We Non-Catholics live alongside Catholics in pretty good harmony most of the time.

But believing you have the right to declare you're the sole executor of the estate of a guy who walked on water and brought the dead back to life, and that this guy wants you to sabotage the condom industry and oversee the verification of bona fide miracles of candidates for sainthood, and wear white dresses in December, well...

I think that's just nuts.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Keeping an eye on the bumblers

There’s a wee small part of me that is feeling sorry for Rick Warren.

He’s such a bumbling twit.

I mean first he does his duty as he sees it and comes out for Prop. 8. This pisses off large numbers of people and destroys his image as Mr. Arms of Jesus. Committed to this image, he can’t hardline it and insist he’s doing God’s work so you guys go and pollute yourselves. So he insists he was misquoted. That doesn’t work, because The Flying Spaghetti Monster has given us YouTube and we can actually see he said the exact opposite of what he just said he said.

I’m not trying to generate sympathy for the guy. He doesn’t need any. He’s got fans galore. Plus he earns more money than God from his The Purpose Driven® Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (note the ®). And given how many people’s lives his na├»ve fundamentalist Christianity has messed up I’m not really inclined to give this sucker an even break, especially after he rolls out the red carpet for his Ugandan buddy and fellow pastor, Martin Ssempa, of condom-burning fame. That alone would earn him title of douche-nozzle extraordinaire. But he did, remember, finally distance himself from Ssempa. The question now is whether he can undo the harm he accomplished in his African mission. (See below for link.)

Watching him try to justify himself after the inauguration snafu and now watching him try to come across as a simple country preacher doing his best to do God’s work and backtracking on Uganda, I am persuaded the guy is sincere. Not the wiley sleazebag many consider him to be. Just not very savvy. He’s not a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson (the truly pernicious) or a snake oil salesman like Jimmy Swaggert or Jim Bakker. He’s a little boy who loves knowing that Daddy in the Sky is taking care of him. You just have to do exactly and only what Daddy tells you to do.

But what do we do about the fact that the human race has not agreed on exactly what that might be?

The more unkind bible-thumpers have an easier time of it. They, like the pope, tell you this is the way it is, and die like a dog if you don’t believe me. But Warren, like other American right wing fundies who have gotten political, needs to soften the blow of truth to keep his numbers. And regain the mike again and again to insist his remarks have been taken out of context.

I went to an interesting talk at the Jesuit Center (the event had nothing to do with the Jesuits) on campus the other day by a Ph. D. in sociology who had just completed her dissertation on the parallels between this group of fundamentalists who want you to open the door to Jesus and not the door to your refrigerator (What would Jesus eat? Could Jesus have walked on water if he had been 300 lbs. overweight?) and the Exodus people (Jesus will cure your homosexuality). There are two big questions these people deal with. One is whether you have to actually lose weight or your homosexuality before God will love you. Warren is among those who believe you don’t. You come to God as a sinner.

But that leads to the second question: Are some sins worse than others? You have to say yes if you want to point fingers at others and legislate sinners' behavior, since you obviously cannot outlaw the really bad sins and pick the right sermon topics without consensus on what they are. But the only people seriously interested in these questions are the literalists, and they know the Bible also tells you God, not you, judges these things.

So this kind of puts you up a tree, doesn't it.

Someday Rick Warren may come to understand how offensive it is to have others define you as a lesser being. And then join together to pass legislation to make sure you lesser beings don’t try to pass yourselves off as equals because no matter what I say I really do think your sin is worse than my sin.

For now, he remains clueless.

Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster people are on to this guy. Max Blumenthal’s got it on the Daily Beast, and even NPR covered the story recently of his backtracking.

But the real hero of the story is Rachel Maddow. She has been following Rick Warren’s bumbling inconsistencies for some time. Currently she is trying to do what I’m trying to do – give credit where credit is due, and at the same time not be suckered into thinking all Warren’s past follies should be overlooked. The guy may be a pussy cat, but that pussy has a lion’s claws, and whether he uses them aggressively or affectionately, they still draw blood.

If you aren’t familiar with the reign of terror legislation in Uganda, by the way, please have a look. Although the latest news is that, like Rick Warren, the Ugandans and Senators Inhofe and Grassley (and you thought maybe there was no connection between fighting America's culture wars in Africa and health care reform?) are back-pedaling now too, it's worth seeing what transpired before world attention to this vicious homophobia forced them into retreat. The history of the story is sobering.

Did I tell you that Rachel Maddow RULES!!!?

Friday, December 4, 2009

No Afterlife, No Honor

It appears that the left is finally fighting fire with fire and learning to match the right in its flair for public displays of patriotism. And that's got to be confusing.

Just saw this YouTube piece with three Fox newscasters pushing God and Country. In this case, bewailing the fact that once again, as happens each year at Christmas, Christians are being asked to keep religion out of the public arena, even though we all know this is a Christian country and non-Christians need to learn their place as Also-ran (did I say Second-Class) Citizens.

One of the Fox people confused is Ainsley Earhardt. More on her later.

First, a little sociocultural context.

Ever since Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and their ilk were informed by the Holy Ghost that it was time for them to stand up for Christianity as the only true religion and take their faith into politics, we seem to be bumping heads over whether my Christian daddy can beat up your non-Christian daddy. Listen to the rightwing Christians and they’ll tell you the country is going to the dogs, and you know why. All you have to do is read your Old Testament and you will see that the nation that turns its back on God ends up in the flames of hell (a Zoroastrian concept, by the way, but let's not get distracted).

This view apparently leads you to ignore what you learned in kindergarten. That you are supposed to share your things. Not so, say the Christianists. Not when it comes to a definition of the one and only Big True Daddy.

It’s that damn Establishment Clause. We can’t get agree on what it really says. Is this or is this not a Christian country? Have we not always loved the Baby Jesus? And hated Scrooge? At least till he came around.

Tradition. You know how tradition works. The pope doesn’t want Turkey in the European Union because, he says, it will threaten the dominance of the Christian religion. Unfortunately for this Rip Van Winkle of an inquisitor-pope, Europeans have been reading their Christian history of late and aren't as keen on recreating the world as it was before he went to sleep. And modern Americans are equally unenthusiastic about the Disneyland version of America with its villages and its happy little cobblers and its blacksmiths and its little churches in the wildwood, oh come come come.

Ask a modern-day Archie Bunker. “You could see this coming,” he’ll tell you, “Once you damn fools snatched power away from white American males and tried to make this your country, it was bound to come to this. Now that the blacks, the women, the gays and the atheists think they're as good as the people who used to be what this country is all about” you’ve got the mess we’re in today. Listen to Sarah Palin. She'll tell you. The handful of old boys advising the modern-day equivalent of “save your Confederate money” have retreated to Idaho and a few southern states. And to Fox Network.

It’s called the Culture War. Ugly, but terribly interesting. You have to understand "tradition” as a cover term for power. Will we hang on to it, or will the new kid on the block get some?

Now you've got atheists wanting to erect monuments to atheist soldiers who died in Iraq.

Atheists getting together and demanding a little respect for their own kind.

What’s next, the folks in Pennsylvania are wondering. Will the Muslims come in and build their minarets? Will we look like fools when we vote them out like the Swiss just did to their Muslims? Will the Hindus come in and give kids the idea that there can be lots of gods (or gods with lots of faces, rather than just three, as we know is actually the case?) So much to think about.

Will we have Flying Spaghetti Monsters on the green in every village in New England? And in the town square in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania? No, say the local authorities. Best to cut out all displays and head this problem off at the pass.

Not if Fox News has anything to do with it.

Republican traditionalists can rejoice that we have Fox News to fight back at this attempt to disestablish Christianity as the default (we're not allowed to say established) religion. Fox covered the exact same story last year, in Washington State, where Foxcaster Dan Springer reported oh so objectively that Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus were “not welcome at the Rotunda at the Capitol.”

To keep the balance in “fair and balanced” they of course interviewed the atheists last year who put up their “provocative” signs saying there was no god.

Taking pot shots at Fox over fair and balanced is unworthy shooting of fish in a barrel, but I couldn’t resist because of what came next from this guy Springer. At minute 2:56, Springer tells of a tree that is a (I blush to even say it) “Holiday Tree” and not a “Christmas Tree.”

And you actually doubted there was a plot to destroy Christianity and its symbols…

But Springer isn’t the dumbest of the bunch. That honor goes to Ainsley Earhardt,
graduate of the School of Journalism in Columbia, South Carolina.

When presented with the information that the atheists wanted to honor their fellow atheist veterans, Ms. Earhardt’s response (minute 1:55, if you don’t want to watch the whole thing) was,

"My question is, if they want to honor the veterans who have passed away, but they’re atheists, they don’t believe in life after death… who are they honoring?".

Can’t argue with that.